Police-Free Schools Are a Victory for Rochester’s Students & Families 1

Police-Free Schools Are a Victory for Rochester’s Students & Families

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (June 16, 2020) — Today, Rochester will make history when the City Council votes to create police-free public schools, making it the third city in the nation to take this important step in the wake George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent uprisings.

Cities around the nation are at last recognizing the danger and harm that police officers in schools represent to Black and Brown students. However, the groundwork for this victory stretches far beyond the clarity of this historic moment. The Alliance for Quality Education first began fighting to reform the code of conduct with Teen Empowerment, Citizen Action of New York, and the Rochester Community Task Force with support from national experts from the Advancement Project. Groups including the New York Civil Liberties Union and Children’s Agenda joined in the fight, and together made this victory possible. Today’s vote represents years of collective work by Rochester parents, students, community organizations, fighting together to realize their vision of Rochester’s schools as a place where students can thrive, and where their educational and socio-emotional needs are met by counselors, psychologists, and restorative justice coaches. 

The removal of police from Rochester’s schools is a victory, but it is a victory that cannot stand on its own. Rochester City School District must maintain and protect the programs and services that are needed to make police-free schools possible, including the restorative justice program, student help zones and the ROC restorative team. It must actively support students by investing in proven-to-work programs, social workers and guidance counselors. 

It’s time for our society as a whole to recognize that policing doesn’t equate to safety in our communities. Likewise, the presence of police in schools does not make them safer for students, especially for Black, Latinx, LGBTQIA, immigrant and disabled youth. Too many Black and Brown children are exposed to violence at the hands of police officers in their youth, and too many of those instances take place in their schools where they are supposed to be safe. We cannot continue perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline. We cannot allow police officers to continue traumatizing our children in their hallways and classrooms. School districts around New York State should follow Rochester’s lead, and end the presence of police in public schools.

“The victory today was not without the hard work of dedicated folks on the ground. Years of advocacy from parents, students and organizations who collectively believed in a future without police in schools are what made this possible,” said Lydia Rodriguez, a Rochester parent. “Students in Rochester can look forward to a school environment that is uplifting with the support of restorative justice coaches, counselors, and social workers. This win is a reminder of the power that exists when we come together as a community.”

“While today’s victory is sweet, the tragedy that sparked a movement can’t go unnoticed. Juwaan Daniels was tragically murdered in 2010 after being suspended for roaming the halls in Buffalo NY. This began the movement to look at school climate as a whole, from ending school suspensions to having counselors not cops. Ten years later, it took the advocacy of students, parents, organizations, and the tragic murder of another Black person at the hands of a police officer to make this movement come full circle,” said Rosemary Rivera, Co-Executive Director at Citizen Action New York.  “When we began, we wanted to create schools that were a joy to teach at and a joy to learn in. This win is a step in the right direction to creating that environment and dismantling the school to prison pipeline.”

“Thank you to Rochester City Council for taking the lead at this moment when all over this nation we are reckoning with all the pieces of structural racism that have led to criminalizing and harming Black and Brown communities.  Policing urban schools has been part of this equation.  We must pour the $1.5 million our city has been spending on policing into resources and supports that build up our students and their families,” said Jennifer Banister, Development & Collaborations Manager, Center for Teen Empowerment.

“This victory belongs to parents, students and community members of Rochester who have been fighting for so long for the dignity of children in Rochester’s schools. It has been a long road to this point, and there is more work to be done. Today is a reminder that together we have the power to create the kind of community we want and that our children deserve. Rochester may be the first district in New York State to end ties with the police department, but it won’t be the last,” said Jasmine Gripper, Alliance for Quality Education.